Two CDs I ordered came in the mail today, Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart and The Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir. I got the monks for meditation–it’s extremely low frequency chanting in very slow rhythm that I find very soothing. This particular recording was made by Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead’s drummer, and is exquisitely recorded with a tremendous feeling of presence. The chants are in fact prayers and the monks believe that if a listener attends to them the prayers will find their way to the deities to which they are addressed. The Dylan Christmas record struck me as such a weird concept when it showed up in my Amazon recommendations that I preordered it. I’ve only listened to it once, but it’s not what you might think. Dylan mostly plays it straight, though the first track, “Here comes Santa Claus,” sounds like your eccentric uncle on Christmas Eve after he’s had a few. But then you realize your uncle can sing. There is also a strangely compelling and heartfelt version of the hymn “Hark The Harald Angels Sing.” The record also contains my least favorite song in the world (Christmas or otherwise), the smarmy “Little Drummer Boy,” which I could tell even as a kid was a sentimental, emotionally manipulative piece of crap. I confess I went out of the room and did something else when it came on this afternoon, so I only heard it from a distance. I’ll update this post after another listen or two.
There are reports that Robert McNamara, perhaps the most morally compromised member of the Johnson administration, has died at 93. I’ll be listening to Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” later this morning as a memorial. The best brief account you’re likely to find of McNamara’s life is Paul Hendrickson’s The Living and the Dead, which begins with an account of McNamara’s upbringing, then tells the stories of five Americans whose lives were exploded by McNamara’s policies in Vietnam. [More informationon on McNamara here; Charlie Rose interview with Hendrickson; Errol Morris's film about McNamara, The Fog of War.]